Nutrition for Runners
Should you eat before a run? If so, what should you have? And how long should you wait to run after eating? Whether you’re going on a light jog or in training for a big race, these are questions most runners face before lacing up and heading out. The answer to what to eat before a run varies, depending on the length and intensity of your workout, as well as your individual body’s preferences. Figuring out a healthy running diet can make your runs easier, increase your endurance, help you avoid injury, and keep you motivated.
How Long to Wait After Eating to Run
Running before and after eating is different for different bodies. Running after eating sometimes causes digestive issues, which can seriously derail your workout. For this reason, many runners structure their day so that they run before breakfast. If you’re going on a moderate run, under 60 minutes, you don’t necessarily need to eat before heading out. Your body should have enough glycogen, or stores of carbohydrates, to fuel you.
That being said, if you’re hoping to figure out how long after eating to run, experts recommend eating at least an hour after eating. For more intense runs or after larger meals, you will likely want to wait around two to four hours between eating and your run’s start time.
You can experiment to find your own body’s optimal timing for running after eating by having a medium-sized snack about 90 minutes before your run. Depending on your body’s response, push your meal’s timing either forwards or backward by 15 to 20 minutes before your next run. If you start feeling crampy, over-full, or have digestion issues on your run, then push the timing of your meal back by 20 minutes until the problem subsides. This can help you figure out exactly when to eat before you run.
What to Eat Before Running?
When choosing something to eat before a run, look for foods you already know and consider easily digestible. Right before a run is not the best time to experiment with new flavors. You may also want to avoid foods that stimulate your digestion, such as:
- Spicy foods
- Broccoli, spinach, artichokes, and other high-fiber vegetables
- Apples, pears, and other high-fiber fruits
- Pastries, donuts, and other foods with high amounts of refined sugar
- Red meat, bacon, and other high-fat or fried foods
Simple and complex carbohydrates are a runner’s best friend. Here are ten examples of what to eat before a run:
- Banana and nut butter – The potassium in the banana will help you avoid cramps, and the nut butter provides protein.
- Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread – Turkey is a lean source of protein that’s versatile enough to have before and after a run.
- Oatmeal with fruit – About 50 to 60 grams of oatmeal can fuel you but is easy on the digestive system.
- Whole-wheat toast with nut butter or jam – Research shows that carbohydrates are one of the body’s top sources for energy, providing both quick bursts and long-lasting reserves. Toast with nut butter or jam is one of the simplest and best foods you can make for yourself before a run because of the high carbohydrate count.
- Bagel or English muffin with eggs – Eggs take longer to digest and so should usually be consumed about two hours before a run. However, they can give you the “real breakfast” feeling that will keep you feeling satisfied.
- Granola or cereal with almond milk – One cup of low-fiber cereal or granola with nut milk (to avoid dairy) is a healthy way to fill up before a run.
- Sports gel – Running gels typically contain around 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates that can keep you fueled but not full. They also often provide electrolytes to replace what you lose through sweat.
- Rice pudding – This runner swears they ran their fastest marathon after eating rice pudding. Rice pudding with cinnamon can help runners with a sweet tooth load up on carbohydrates and avoid sugary energy bars and pastries that make you crash.
- Cottage cheese – Cottage cheese is low in sugar but high in protein, helping you feel satisfied but not stuffed. For every 100 grams of cottage cheese, you get about 11 grams of protein.
- Sweet potatoes – Incorporating sweet potatoes into your pre-run meal can help prevent cramps, as well as fueling you with healthy carbohydrates.
What to Eat Before a 5k?
What you eat before a race should look similar to what you’ve been eating in training. Aim to eat easy-to-digest carbohydrates with a low glycemic index around 3 hours before the race. A good-sized breakfast will consist of around 1 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Loading up on carbohydrates in the days before a 5k will usually be unnecessary and can even slow you down.
What to Eat Before a Marathon?
Any run over 90 minutes means you need to pay extra attention to your nutrition to avoid “hitting the wall” and running out of glycogen during your run. Eating a meal with carbohydrates and some lean protein can help tide you over during a marathon. You’ll want to avoid fiber and fatty foods as much as possible. Stick with what’s worked for you in the past, and try to eat at least 2 to 4 hours before the run begins. Carbo-loading in the days before a marathon can help your body stock up on glycogen, preparing you for the long race ahead.
Nutrition for runners means getting enough carbohydrates, which are converted into glucose for energy during a run. For runners, diet is key to race training. Easy-to-digest carbohydrates like toast and oatmeal, simple proteins like eggs and turkey, and potassium-rich foods like bananas and sweet potatoes are staples for a runner. Whether you’re going on jogs around the neighborhood or preparing for a marathon, figuring out your eat/run routine is one of the most important ways you can stay moving.